Mishcon de Reya has become embroiled in a row that has ended with the firm being forced to trot out its star lawyer, Anthony Julius, to defend its reputation in the Royal Courts of Justice.
Mishcon is being sued by the former chief executive of charity Jewish National Fund UK (JNF), Simon Winters, who is seeking an injunction to stop the firm acting for JNF in his dispute with it over his suspension, alleging a conflict of interest.
Winters claims that Mishcon should be prohibited from acting for JNF in the employment case because Julius had previously advised him personally on a libel matter.
Winters, it is claimed, was advised by Julius concerning his threat to sue the chair of the Glasgow branch of the JNF, Stanley Lovatt, for defamation after Lovatt’s son leaked allegations of corruption by Winters to Jewish newspapers.
Winters had sent a letter threatening legal action to the Glasgow committee which, he claims, was dictated by Julius.
“We say that Mr Julius’s approval and amendments [that he made] in the letter couldn’t be any clearer indication that he was acting for Mr Winters personally,” said Winters’ counsel Alastair Wilson QC of Hogarth Chambers, who was instructed by George Davies Solicitors partner Mark Lewis.
However, Julius took to the stand to refute the claims, arguing that he was already acting for JNF in a litigation against its former Israeli counterpart, Keren Kayemet Le’Israel, and felt he needed to unite JNF in order to win the litigation.
His advice to Winters, Julius suggested, was secondary to his position on the litigation and he had advised Wilson against taking libel action because it could have impeded the charity’s case.
Referring to the letter, Julius said: “It was a spasm of anger and nothing more than that. He was upset. We talked about it. I found reasons why they shouldn’t pursue Scotland because it would impact the litigation. What came from that was the letter from Mr Winters.”
Julius admitted seeing the letter but said the “threat of suing was unlikely to be carried out” and that he had spoken to several trustees at JNF about libel matters because not “a month went by that a JNF person didn’t ask me about libel. I spent a lot of time holding hands – they were under intense pressure.”